Moving towards Pervasive Business Intelligence

Pervasive Business Intelligence, which is the ability to enable a company to
see their data as an asset that can be exploited in real time, has been the aim
of many vendors and consultants in the BI industry for some time.  In an
era where most types of product information is available online, competitive
forces are driving BI consultants and vendors to provide ways to enable better
service and lower prices in the struggle for corporate survival.

Discussion of Pervasive Business Intelligence

One of the main stumbling blocks that I have found in trying to enable
pervasive BI when delivering a new BI application or tool to my corporate
clients is the disparity between the requirements of the business and the
assets set aside by the IT department to deal with those requirements. One of
the main concerns that the majority of my clients raise with me in the
discovery or planning phase of the project is that they do not want the BI
solution to be deployed to anyone except business analysts and power users.

This point of view must be challenged as it does not assist the achievement
of pervasive BI, which makes companies smarter, better and faster. To achieve
this kind of value-add requires a proactive approach, but, without vision from
the decision makers in the company these opportunities can be overlooked or are
seen as optional and therefore are beyond the traditional approach. This is
where as a BI specialist you must provide an answer in the form of tools that
enable the staff of the company, from director to front line operations
personnel, to access and interrogate their data without the need of a
specialist – either BI or IT.

Allowing the user to interact with their data directly supports the natural
iterative of analysis, which is to allow the user to follow where his or her
questions lead. I have found during my years of delivering BI systems that
allowing the user to react independently to the answers that they receive from the data,
without needing to ask for assistance from an expert, prevents
them from losing the momentum of the search. This leads to the BI user
utilizing self-service BI to provide analysis of the data as they think of new
methods of improving their market share and obtain the results that they
require in real time, hence making proactive decisions easier and the ability
to provide a smarter outcome. Matching the BI interface with your types of
users is key to achieving pervasive BI. Most business users associate BI with
analysts who can access the data via query tools and the raw OLAP database. The
problem with this assumption is that to achieve pervasive BI, the data must be
available to all users at all levels. Front line operational staffs do not have
the time or the requirement to learn how to access the data using these
sometimes complex tools and therefore benefit from embedded tools.

BI in the Real World

Recently, having created a BI tool to enable a major bank to access the data
they held in survey results, I was asked if it was possible to enable the data
to be accessed across a web interface. Having delivered a mixture of self-build
dashboards and interactive reports, which had satisfied the original
requirement, it was discovered that questions had been raised from the front
line staff that could not be answered quickly enough using traditional methods.
To enable this change of emphasis I delivered a front end to the user’s desktop
utilizing both thick client methodology via MS Access and also an ASP.Net
client on thin clients within the branch. The main obstacle to the interface
however was the requirement to allow users to state in plain language what they
wanted to find in the information they were interrogating; this was partly
achieved by utilizing the free text search facilities available within SQL
server 2005. I have found that utilizing the Microsoft platform to deliver
results provides the user with a system that supports ease of use for the non
Business Analyst/Super User. There is also the advantage of user familiarity
with Internet Explorer, Excel and SharePoint. The skill sets are already there,
which helps support the non-technical business users as well as IT to get up to
speed quickly.

Obtaining BI Results

Achieving a successful implementation of pervasive BI has more to do with
how you manage the way you present your solution to the company. I have found
that you must be able to drive a change of direction within the company’s
decision makers to support the idea that you can supply information that is
relevant to every level of the business instead of reacting only to the question
"What do you need". In extending the reach of BI to the rest of the
companies employees and engaging the IT departments in all the decision making
processes, you are allowing the decisions to be gleaned from the companies’
data to be relevant to all branches of the company. The problem of the last 10
years has been that traditional BI tools are overly complex and difficult to
use; many vendors have attempted to deliver all the answers to all questions by
stacking new features on top of old systems, which leads to poor ease of use.

Conclusions

I have recently had the chance to implement some of the more recently
launched web based BI interfaces by some of the major BI vendors, amongst them
Cognos, Targit and Micro strategy. In many companies, Web-based BI has been the
biggest driver behind expanding use within the corporate sector, however for it
to provide the solution to the question of pervasive BI it will need to prove
that it can become as robust as client-server interfaces. These new offerings
are providing companies with the opportunities to extend their BI beyond
corporate boundaries. I believe that there are signs that BI is becoming a
must-have business tool that’s no longer strictly optional and despite the best
efforts of the major players to leverage Excel and PowerPoint as paths to
pervasive BI, I believe that new tools must be created and implemented to allow
all users within a company to access the available information.

»


See All Articles by Columnist

Peter Evans

Peter Evans
Peter Evans
Peter Evans, a Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Expert, Targit Certified Professional and industry recognized independent consultant specializing in delivery of applications utilizing primarily but not exclusively Microsoft technologies and in delivery of solutions to non standard cases. He enjoys explaining the methods e has employed in over sixteen years industry experience including work for major corporation and government clients.

Latest Articles